masonry and religion
W. Bro. William C. Rheubottom
Freemasonry has never looked for detractors. Enemies of the
organization have included the Roman Catholic Church, the Communist Party, the
Nazis, and the religious right. It has been denounced by popes and kings, by the
ignorant and by those who felt threatened by the fraternity's reputation for
Unfortunately, because it has a long history of never answering critics,
Freemasonry makes a wonderful target for bigotry.
I've lost count of how many times I have been asked, "Isn't Freemasonry a
separate religion?" It is a question that creates a question: "How in the world
did anyone come to believe that Freemasonry is a religion?" The basic question
has been addressed over and over again: "No, Freemasonry is not a religion."
But, this reply rarely has any impact on non-masons for the simple reason that
the defense of Freemasonry is usually directed at other freemasons, not at the
masses who are the targets of the anti-masonic evangelists. What is obviously
needed is a broader audience for the defense.
One point that is confusing to many is the frequent statement by Masonic writers
that freemasons are "religious." They are, but being religious in no way carries
with it the concept of being part of a separate religion.
Usually, the allegation that Freemasonry is a separate religion is helped along
by one or more blatant falsehoods - for example: the charge that Freemasonry has
its own path to salvation through the performance of good works. I never met a
freemason who believed that, nor who would be able to understand how anyone
could ever draw such a conclusion. In practice, it is a handy point for
anti-masons, who are frequently confronted with "but, if freemasons are such
evil people, how do you explain their free hospitals, language disorder clinics
for children, their many, many summer camps for children, their eye-care
programmes, their tutoring programs, their homes for the elderly, and all those
other Masonic charities?"
The anti-Masonic answer comes back as "the Masonic charities are not beloved by
God because the freemasons teach that good works are the way to salvation. That
makes those charities against the will of God." That is sick, but it is what
some of them say.
Freemasonry leaves it up to the individual freemason to choose his pathway to
God, and that policy naturally includes no rules, advice, or admonition as to
the means of salvation. The freemason is expected, quite properly, to get that
spiritual guidance forms his own denomination, which he is encouraged to support
with both his energy and his personal finances. Time after time in various
lectures, the freemason is told never to put his duties and responsibilities to
the Masonic fraternity ahead of his duties and responsibilities to his church,
to his country, and to his family. As for Masonic charities, whether they are
organized major efforts or individual acts of kindness (such as aid to a
destitute brother or to his widow and their children) the freemason is told to
make no gift that will offset his duty to care for his own family.
In the ceremonies and lectures that lead to a man being raised to the status of
Master Mason, he hears no description of heaven or hell. He hears no religious
dogma. He hears no mention of Satan. He is told of no Masonic path to salvation
for the simple reason that there is none.
The only religious item in the Masonic lodge is the Holy Book of the initiate's
Since most freemasons are Christians, that book is usually the King James
Version of the Holy Bible. The initiate may be given a Masonic Bible by his
lodge, his friends, or his family, but it varies from other editions and actual
scripture by not one single word. It is only a "Masonic" Bible because it also
contains a brief history of Freemasonry, or a concordance to relate to certain
Masonic ritual or scriptural passages.
In the lecture accompanying the initiation rites of the First Degree, called
Entered Apprentice, he is told that how he chooses to worship God is up to his
Every meeting of freemasonry opens and closes with prayer. Every meal begins
wtih prayer. Freemasons also offer prayer to charitable endeavors, for bereaved
freemasons and their families, or for a departed brother.
Clearly, one can easily assert that Freemasonry is not a separate religion. It
promotes no heaven, no hell, and no means of salvation. There is no "witnessing"
or arguing over religious belief in the lodge. There is no religious dogma. It
can't be a religion.
Nevertheless, it is frequently charged that the Masonic lodge has its own God,
whose name is "The Great Architect of the Universe." That Masonic term is not a
name; it is a designation or reference, as are terms beginning with the word
"The" - The Almighty, The Creator, and The Most High. If it starts with "The,"
it is not a name, so why do the freemasons use that designation?
Freemasonry, as its name implies, centers symbolically on the ancient builders
of temples and cathedrals. It is natural for groups to fashion a designation for
God that relates to their interests. In the military, I attended an outdoor
church service conducted by a visiting chaplain, an ordained minister. He
referred to God as "Our Supreme Commander-in-Chief in Heaven." The freemasons
often refer to God as the Great Architect of the Universe, but what is wrong
with that? The architect is one who plans and brings a structure into being. As
a designation for God, the Great Architect of the Universe makes sense, and it
means precisely the same thing as the universally popular "The Creator." The
slight difference is that the Masonic designation implies that God created the
world according to a plan, although there is no Masonic description of what that
plan may have been.
Then there is the charge that the Third Degree, that of Master Mason, teaches a
Masonic resurrection. That simply is not true, and I have to believe that those
who make that allegation are fully aware that it is not true. When, in debates,
I have told people who trot out that charge that they are either ignorant of the
truth, or deliberately lying, they tend to back off. They change the subject,
rather than attempting to prove their point, which they know cannot be done
(Their own followers never demand that they prove anything).
The act referred to in the allegation of resurrection is easily identified. In
the initiation drama of the Third Degree, the Master Builder of Solomon's Temple
is murdered by three assassins, who hide the body in an obscure grave in the
wilderness. By the time the grave is discovered, the body is decomposing. It is
dug up and brought back to Jerusalem for proper burial. Taking a body from one
grave to put it into another is called "re-internment," or "re-burial." It meets
no definition of resurrection.
A favorite charge is that Freemasonry must be a religion because it has a
funeral service, not in place of it. I have attended many military funeral
services that took place after the graveside service, and they offer a good
comparison. The military is in full-dress uniform, and there is often a squad
with rifles who fire a volley into the air above the open grave. The coffin is
covered with a flag. After the military salute, the flag is removed from the
coffin, folded in the traditional triangular shape and formally presented to the
nearest relative of the departed individual before the coffin is lowered and
Does this mean that the military is a separate religion? Of course not. It
simply means that a departed brother is acknowledged and honored by a group of
peers. Ask your local policeman if he has ever attended a graveside service for
a fallen law enforcement officer. A chaplain who may not be of the same faith as
the deceased often conducts the police service. Sometimes hundreds and even
thousands of law enforcement officers, who may never have met their fallen
brother, will attend the ceremony, which is carried out in addition to the
regular religious service. Does this mean that the police department is a
separate religion? Of course not. That is exactly the spirit of a Masonic
funeral service, and I know from personal experience that widows, parents, and
children appreciate the tribute paid to a loved one whom they mourn.
One anti-Masonic charge that really distorts the spirit of the fraternity arises
from the fact that when a freemason takes the oath of loyalty to the Masonic
brotherhood, the Masonic symbols of the square and compasses rest on top of the
Holy Bible. To the mason-hater, that clearly means that freemasons put their
order above God. If you go into a courtroom tomorrow and place your hand on top
of the Bible to take an oath to tell the truth, or to take an oath of office,
does the higher position of your hand mean that you are putting yourself above
A reverse allegation is that the freemason must be the anti-Christ because there
are no symbols of Jesus in the lodge room. No, there are not. Nor are there
symbols there of any other religion. They would not be appropriate to a
fraternal society, especially one specifically espoused freedom of religion to
the extent of admitting men of all faiths.
A more recent anti-Masonic allegation is based on the fact that masons teach
lessons of morality, which they illustrate with the tools of the mediaeval
stonemason: for example, the square, the compasses, the setting maul, the level,
and the plumb line. These lessons relating to principles such as
self-improvement, fair dealing, truthfulness, and charity, are objectionable to
some religious leaders because morality is being taught without specific
reference to Jesus. They call it "secular humanism." There is no way to answer
that charge, because it is based on the concept that without Jesus there is no
such thing as moral teaching. Since most of the world's population is not
Christian, we can only hope that position is wrong. However, all manner of
secular societies encourage their members to live by moral codes, including the
Campfire Girls, the Boy Scouts, 4-H Clubs, the American Bar Association, and the
American Medical Association (whose codes of ethics could easily be labeled
"secular humanism."). As we look at the state of society we live in today, it
seems wise to endorse the teaching of moral behavior by any means whatsoever.
Strangely enough, Freemasonry may be the only organization on the face of the
earth that practices, to its detriment, the scriptural admonition to turn the
other cheek. Freemasons have suffered generations of abuse stemming from false
allegations and rarely have answered back. Freemasons all over the country have
shared with me their feelings that it is time for a change, time for Freemasonry
to speak out, and I fully agree.
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